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Florida Republicans pass congressional map severely curtailing Black voter power

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Florida Capitol in Tallahassee is pictured on Wednesday morning, Jan, 20, 2021. (Getty Images)

Florida lawmakers gave final approval on Thursday to new congressional boundaries for the next decade, adopting a map that severely curtails Black voting power in the state.

The map put forward by Gov. Ron DeSantis promises significant gains for Republicans and would dismantle and dilute two current districts held by Black Democrats.

The House voted 68-38 Thursday to send the map to DeSantis, who is expected to sign the districts into law. The Senate passed the map on Wednesday, in a party-line vote.

The map, which is one of the most aggressively gerrymandered maps passed in recent months, gives Republicans the advantage in as many as 20 of 28 districts.

It dismantles Florida's 5th Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Al Lawson, which connects Black communities from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, the city with the largest African American population in the state.

The city, instead, is divided into two Republican-leaning districts. Lawsuits challenging the maps are immediately expected.

The voting on Thursday happened while several Black members of the Florida House staged a sit-in on the floor of the legislature.

"I am occupying the Florida House chamber floors to ensure that Black people will not be forgotten about. We are here to stay," state Rep. Angie Nixon said from the floor during protest. "We are occupying the floor, we're doing good trouble. Ron DeSantis is a bully, Ron DeSantis does not care about Black people."

Meanwhile, state representative Fentrice Driskell, a Democrat who represents the Tampa area, said, “We are plainly in this map denying minority voters the ability to elect the representative of their choice.”

The Republican-controlled state House and Senate initially wanted to keep the current level of Black districts. The governor, however, threatened to veto those proposals.

In March, the House and Senate passed their own map over the governor's objections. DeSantis, however, vetoed it, calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee to hold a special session over the issue. Republican leaders in the House and Senate then decided earlier this month to allow the governor to take the lead.

“Throughout this process, Gov. DeSantis has thrown childish tantrum after tantrum, all in an attempt to boost his own political prospects, and it is frankly embarrassing that my Republican colleagues lack the backbone to stand up to the governor’s playground-style bullying,” said state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-Miami Gardens) after the vote.

Last month, a federal judge in Florida struck down several of the state's new Republican-backed voting restrictions, arguing they violate minority voters' constitutional rights.

US District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee ruled that new restrictions, such as reducing drop boxes for ballots and banning organizations from offering aid to people waiting to vote, were unconstitutional.

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